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Album Review: Opeth – In Cauda Venenum

There are two kinds of people. One type is excited for a new Opeth album (that includes me), and the other hasn’t given a shit about Opeth since Watershed (2008) since they stopped doing death metal style songs from Heritage (2011) onward. Luckily for people like me, a new Opeth album is always welcomed, because I can fully admit I adore their more prog-rock direction just as much as I do their old death metal roots. Though there are times that I miss the sounds of Still Life (1999) through Ghost Reveries (2005) (for me, the period with the most consistency and best representation of Opeth’s catalog), I do feel their newer efforts still offer quite a bit in terms of musical value. Today I’m here to discuss whether Opeth’s latest offering In Cauda Venenum again shows that the band has plenty to give.

I must say, Opeth’s ability to take risks and evolve despite the inevitable criticism is admirable. Admittedly, I discovered Opeth while they were in this transition into their more “progressive rock” sound in the dawn of abandoning their death metal sound, but the first album I had heard from them was Still Life (1999). While discovering them, I was curious to listen to what their newer albums sounded like, and I was quite pleasantly surprised. No death metal vocals, the music was a bit more melodic, and in a lot of ways sounded more organic while also being whacky. Me being a fan of progressive music, I found it to be rather welcoming, and was not at all offended by their change in sound as a lot of their fan-base appears to be. While their older albums like Blackwater Park (2001) obviously still had its progressive elements, I believe the newer records, including their forthcoming In Cauda Venenum, dig even deeper into the progressive spectrum drawing for more influences from bands like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Deep Purple, and so on.

With that in mind, it would beg the question, after the band’s last studio effort Sorceress (2016) that polarized much of their fanbase, whether the group would continue down the same direction or if they would attempt to return to their older heavier style that so many love and adore.  After hearing the single “Heart In Hand/Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör,” it became quite clear that the band were not going to return the death metal growls anytime soon. However, it did show a different kind of heavy; more emotional in a lot of ways, especially towards the second half where the ballad happens. To me, it’s more of a continuation of what was done on Sorceress but in my opinion, much better executed. Considering this is the second-longest song on the record, clocking in only 4 seconds shorter than the longest song, this proved to be quite an ambitious first single.

The next leading single “Dignity/Svekets Prins” displays more of the same, but perhaps a more bombastic arrangement, and vocal layering that is taken to new heights. That is one particular thing that I noticed the most about much of In Cauda Venenum, is how much more of a presence the orchestra and choir-like vocals have. I find that they’re tastefully placed.

“Next Of Kin/De närmast sörjande,” and “Lovelorn Crime/Minnets yta,” are the tracks that follow, and these tracks are perfectly laid out in terms of sequence. In other words, they go very well together as a package deal; a dynamic duo if you will. The songs themselves are quite cinematic. Personally, I can picture emotional movie scenes while listening to these songs which I find to be enjoyable as if it were the equivalent to a very well written and engaging book.

“Charlatan” is quite different for Opeth. In a lot of ways, it’s just as experimental as say the band’s previous album’s title track Sorceress, where they experiment in a new tuning they’ve never used before, and the music is probably the wackiest I’ve ever heard on an Opeth record. It’s almost as if being part of a soundtrack to an iconic video game, which perfectly leads into the intro of “Universal Truth/Ingen sanning är allas.” The layering is quite beautiful while still showing moments of pretty intense guitar riffing and soloing that eventually breaks into a heaven-like acoustic interlude with an accompanying orchestra. A track like this leads me to believe that there needs to be a recorded DVD concert of Opeth performing with an orchestra because witnessing it live would be incredibly immense.

“The Garroter/Banemannen” is Opeth playing music meant for a night-time high profile party/get together while drinking an incredibly strong cocktail. If there’s any song on In Cauda Venenum that displays the sound of a movie soundtrack more so than the others, it would easily be this one. Musically, it is quite uncharted territory for Opeth and one that fans are either going to adore or absolutely hate. Luckily I’m on the spectrum that loves the vibe. Proceed with caution! You might find yourself in a trance.

Furthermore, Opeth brings back the heavy guitars with “Continuum/Kontinuerlig drift in case by this point in the album the listener had any doubt. It displays a mixture of familiar elements as well as new elements. I must say, the guitar solo laid down by Fredrik Åkesson is a highlight of the song for sure, but overall this is probably one of the strongest songs on In Cauda Venenum. It sums up most of what the album has to offer in one song and definitely would be the song to play for first-time listeners if they wanted to get a taste. By the time you hit the last track, you end up wondering, where did the time go? The title’s track reminds you that indeed, “All Things Shall Pass/Allting tar slut.” Incredibly bad puns aside, this song is the easily the most epic and would make sense to put at the tail end of the record. The vibe is as if I’m on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean on my way to a faraway land that has mysteries yet fully realized. The song holds a steady pace, held tightly together by the drums, while the guitars and the music interweave between heavy and melodically melancholic.

I probably went into detail about In Cauda Venenum far more than I should have, but regardless, I want to leave the readers off with one take away. If you expect an Opeth death metal record, steer clear. Don’t even bother with this one. You’re going to be sorely disappointed, and your feelings about the band and their recent output will not change. However, for the ones like me who keep an open mind, and enjoy the band’s willingness to experiment and explore uncharted territory, this album is simply incredible. I found every track to be enjoyable, and it might possibly hold the contender for album of the year for me.  There is still plenty of time left in the year to decide, but as it stands, this is pretty close to being the reigning champion. The palate of music on this record is so vast that it’s definitely going to take going back for seconds, and even thirds before it can be fully comprehended. However, it’s not simply due to the notion of attempting to “get it” but more rather because it’s just so damn good that you have to go back for more.

Highlights:

Heart In Hand/Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör
Next Of Kin/De närmast sörjande
Universal Truth/Ingen sanning är allas
Continuum/Kontinuerlig drift

Editor Grade

A

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